Belfast Telegraph

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Why working with Duchess Kate was icing on cake

Fiona Cairns tells Sara O'Meara about baking the Royal Wedding cake and gives us two delicious recipes to try at home

When the news came, Fiona Cairns was standing in the hallway of her Midlands home arranging miniature blue waves around a Pirate Galleon Chocolate Cake.

“The camera clicked and I thought, ‘Oh good, the photo shoot will soon be over, I'll be able to pop the Champagne and everyone will go home'. And then my mobile rang ...”

There's still a nervous tremble in her voice, when Cairns recalls the day her husband relayed that crucial message from Clarence House.

“I'll never forget that feeling. I was very excited, and also worried, because it's such a big responsibility.”

Cairns and a select small baking team treasured the news they would be producing the wedding cake for the then soon-to-be Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in secret, as they liaised with the royal couple.

“It was an amazing adventure,” says the former pastry chef whose factory produces 120,000 cakes a year, selling to Harrods, Selfridges and Waitrose. Like any modern bride, Kate took control of proceedings from an early stage, says the cook, and luckily her desires chimed with Cairns's talents.

“It was a dream brief for us, and very much Catherine's, right from the very beginning. She's very creative. We were given some lace, which we assumed was the same as the dress, so the flowers on the cake matched her gown.”

Cairns, who makes Paul McCartney's Christmas cake every year, spent time with Kate Middleton and her staff, ensuring every detail was perfect.

An interior architect was employed to work out the structure of the creation, made up of 17 cakes and eight tiers. “It was the biggest cake I've ever made,” says Cairns.

“One of the most hairy moments was getting it from its little room to the Picture Gallery on a trolley. I ended up carrying the middle sections, so they didn't get bumped.” Considering the mother-of-two looks looks as sweet and light as one of her cakes, the mental image of her lugging kilos of fruit cake up the stairs of Buckingham Palace, while dodging DJs carrying massive amplifiers ready for the disco, is rather wonderful. “I have recovered now, but it did take a long time.” she says, with relief. As Cairns explains, whether you're cooking for the future Queen or your mum, great cake-making relies on a few key ingredients. “First, you have to want do it. And it's better to do something really simple, that you're capable of, than attempt something difficult. Either the love - or stress - will come through! Second, make sure you're making something not just for yourself. Think about the recipient.” Below are two of Fiona Cairns' birthday recipes to try...

The Birthday Cake Book, Quadrille, £18.99

BUTTERSCOTCH CAKE WITH CARAMEL HAZELNUT WISPS

(Serves 8)

For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, really soft, diced

175g self-raising flour, sifted

1tsp baking powder

3 eggs, lightly beaten

100g golden caster sugar

75g light muscovado sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

For the frosting:

500g mascarpone

1tbsp black treacle

1tbsp golden syrup

2tbsp light muscovado sugar

For the Hazelnut Wisps:

30 hazelnuts, blanched

24 wooden skewers

110g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Butter two 20cm round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the butter, eggs, two types of sugar and vanilla extract, and beat until well blended.

Divide the batter between the tins, level the tops and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the butterscotch frosting.

Tip the mascarpone into a bowl and beat in the treacle, syrup and sugar. Spread a layer on top of both cakes and sandwich them together.

For the Caramel Hazelnut Wisps, make sure you have both a small and a large bowl of cold water, and a heavy kitchen board to hand. The oven should be turned down to 170C/Gas Mark 31/2.

Scatter the hazelnuts on to a baking tray and roast for five minutes. Cool completely then insert the point of a skewer very gently into each nut.

Spread newspaper out on the floor and lay a sheet of baking parchment on it. Place the heavy board on a surface directly above.

Put the sugar and 100ml cold water into a saucepan and, over a low heat, allow the sugar to dissolve, stirring with a metal spoon. Use a damp pastry brush to wipe away any sugar crystals from the side.

When you can no longer see any crystals, increase the heat to boil. Do not stir. It will turn a golden amber. Drop a piece into the small bowl of cold water. If it crackles and forms a ball, it's ready. Plunge the pan into the large bowl of water and leave to thicken up for a few minutes.

Take a skewered hazelnut and dip into the caramel. Lift and when it forms a thin strand, secure the skewer under the heavy board so the caramel can drip on to the baking parchment on the floor.

Very carefully remove the skewers and place the wisps — if possible — directly on to the cake. If not possible, then temporarily rest upright in a piece of sugar paste or buttercream to stop them from rolling around and breaking, and keep in a cool, dry place.

ALL-IN-ONE APRICOT AND ALMOND CAKE

(Serves 8)

For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, really soft, diced, plus more for the tin

150g self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

75g ground almonds

3 eggs, lightly beaten

175g golden caster sugar

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed lemon

1tsp almond extract (optional)

250g ripe apricots, stoned and sliced

To decorate:

100g golden caster sugar

2 squeezes of lemon juice

4 apricots, halved

3tbsp apricot jam

Icing sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 31/2. Butter a 20cm round cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

I use an electric mixer with a beater attachment, but you could use a food processor, or a bowl and an electric whisk.

First, sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl of the mixer. Beat in all the other ingredients (except the apricots), being careful not to over-mix, for a light cake.

Spoon half the cake batter into the prepared tin, level it and sprinkle the sliced apricots over the cake. Spoon the remaining mixture over the top and level the batter.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the centre springs back to the touch.

Leave in tin a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool. Remove the papers. For the decoration: Bring 600ml water and the caster sugar to a simmer and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Add the halved apricots and gently simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the syrup, dry on a piece of kitchen towel and cool. Place on top of the cooled cake.

Warm the apricot jam, then press it through a sieve.

Place into a clean pan and add another squeeze of lemon juice before brushing over the apricots.

Dust with icing sugar before serving with a jug of cream.

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